Guest: Franks, Lucinda
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THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Lucinda Franks
Title: “America’s ‘Days of Rage”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I have been for a good many years. And my guest today, particularly in a most compelling recent article in The New Yorker magazine, demonstrates once again her finely honed journalistic ability to evoke images of happenings long past that loom so large in molding our sense of what this country is all about.
In 1971, while a very, very young reporter at The New York Times, Lucinda Franks was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for a five-part series entitled, “The Making of a Revolutionary,” about a member of the Weathermen Underground in those days and years of rage.
And now, as The New Yorker suggests, with a series of exclusive, first-time interviews, Ms. Franks has pieced together the underground life of one of America’s most famous Sixties-era fugitives, Katherine Ann Power, who voluntarily gave herself up last year to charges of taking part, as a violent, anti-Vietnam War radical, in a 1970 bank robbery in which a policeman was killed. About this strange odyssey from good Catholic girl to violent radical on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and 23 years underground, my guest writes, “For Katherine Ann Power, the clues to what happened to her life are embedded in her upbringing.”
And I would ask Lucinda Franks today to what degree that thought is meant to be exculpatory.
FRANKS: Very good question. It’s not exculpatory in the sense that Katherine Ann Power was brought up in a very devout, tight, sheltered Catholic family in Denver. There are many people who are brought up in tight Catholic or religious backgrounds that do not go on to have delusions of stopping the Vietnam War and of changing the world through violent action, which is what happened to Katherine Ann Power. In my piece, I tried to show how the steps that led to this kind of delusion. I think back in the Sixties, those of us who were in college, in high school, just out of college, had a kind of a sense of intellectual hysteria. We really thought that the country was falling apart. Indeed, Kissinger, much later, said he thought the country was falling apart. I think you have to remember what it was like to pick up the paper one morning and find out that National Guard troops had shot in cold blood four students who were peacefully demonstrating at Kent State, or to pick up the paper and find out that Nixon was bombing Cambodia when he said he was going to withdraw from that war.
So there was a sense of hysteria. What drove people like Katherine Ann Power to such extreme action, what put them over the cliff to rob banks or blow up buildings or some of the other things that the violent terrorists of that era did, one will never really know. But I think that Katherine Ann Power was brought up, as many of us were, thinking that she had to make personal sacrifices to save the world, that she somehow was destined for a kind of living sainthood.
HEFFNER: Have you changed your mind since you won the Pulitzer Prize for that series on the Weathermen Underground about the nature and the nurturing of these people? Do you see them differently now?
FRANKS: From when I…
HEFFNER: When you first wrote about them.
FRANKS: Right. When I first wrote about them it was 1971, and it was right in the middle…
FRANKS: …of the war.
HEFFNER: More sympathetic now? Less sympathetic now?
FRANKS: In a sense, almost more sympathetic.
FRANKS: Because I see the futility and the inconsequential result of what they did. When I was writing about it back in 1971, the fact that Weathermen were blowing up buildings, the fact that Katherine Ann Power and her group were robbing banks, I thought had a real impact on what happened in Vietnam. And indeed, in a sense, in a small sense, it did. It helped; it was part of the big package that began to shake the foundations of the presidency. The marches, the editorials, the, you know, the fact that Phi Beta Kappa college kids were robbing banks or blowing up buildings certainly shook the confidence of the government, and, I think, helped to end or to move President Nixon’s presidency to an end. But back then, when I was writing about them in 1971, I thought that Diana Outen and the Weathermen probably had much more impact than indeed they did. I think that their conviction that they were in the midst of a revolution is a very sad and tragic delusion that cost them their lives and cost their family untold suffering.
HEFFNER: But don’t you think they were, or are you saying in fact, when you look at, when you look back and add it all up; we’re not terribly far removed from that kind of relationship between real political power and the wishes of the young?
FRANKS: Uh huh. Uh huh.
HEFFNER: Are you saying that finally there’s nothing that the young can do except grow older and become more accepting of the status quo?
FRANKS: Well, that’s very interesting. I think there is a trend these days to say, “Ah, the Sixties is dead. The silly Sixties, delusions of grandeur that we thought we could change things.” You know those who really put their life on the line, like Katharine Ann Power, like the people that went to jail for draft resistance or somehow really affected their futures by their actions. It’s fashionable to say that it was completely futile. But in essence, many of the changes of the Sixties, many of the actions of the Sixties brought about permanent change. Community organizing, the whole psychotherapeutic movement of expressing feelings and self-help and opening up relationships and intimacy between people. These were forged in the crucible of the Sixties. So, in a sense, there was a lot of changes made by a lot of different kinds of protestors.
HEFFNER: You know, I began the program as I did, asking you that question about whether that sentence for Katharine Ann Power, the keys to what happened to her life are embedded in her upbringing, I asked about that because I was reminded when I read that of the time you and I sat at this table and we discussed Wild Apples, your absolutely wonderful novel. And I had quoted from it, the first thing that I asked you about was a sentence there that, which you said, “It is as though adulthood is but a ghost of our real lives which remains somewhere in childhood.” And I wondered whether this is Lucinda Franks, that this sentence in The New Yorker piece just now, and that piece in Wild Apples some years back, whether you were saying something about relationships between our childhood and what it is as we grow up. And if that is the case, what can we expect of a middle-aged generation now, as she is middle aged…
FRANKS: Uh huh. Uh huh.
HEFFNER went through the Sixties, and then the early Seventies. That’s why I asked too about how your own feelings have changed about the relationship between the individual and real political power. Is there a sea change? Or is it all just the same? Do you feel empowered…
HEFFNER: .. .because you’re a couple of decades older, if I may say that to a lady?
FRANKS: Yes. You mean empowered because of what our generation did two decades ago?
HEFFNER: Or empowered just because you’re now in a position where you can look back and say, “There was really nothing that we could do. We could bomb, we could kill, we could protest, we could lie down on the New Jersey Turnpike and disrupt traffic, but there wasn’t all, really, finally, there wasn’t all really that much we could do. Only now, in our, in middle years can one hope to have meaningful power.” And I wonder whether that’s the perception that you have now, and whether Katharine Ann Power has that perception as you interviewed her. What is her fix on what they did 20 years ago, 25 years ago?
FRANKS: Well, she is a very interesting case. People like myself slipped back into the establishment after our protest years, or indeed were in the establishment while we were doing what we could to end the war, while we were marching, or in my case, I wrote a lot of anti-war stories. And we, our world got smaller. The Vietnam War did end, and that was a significant factor in having people turn inward to watch what was happening in their own lives and to nurture what was happening in their own lives. And, you know, as you get older, you do turn inward to your family, and you get your house in order. Katharine Ann Power, and perhaps many like her who are rootless today, moving from job to lob, are not able somehow to fit into today’s world because their whole hearts were put into the Sixties, and they did make sacrifices. With Katharine Ann Power, she was like a person that was frozen in time. As people came up from underground, she was one of the very last radicals left underground. And incidentally, the woman that was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list longer than any woman in history, in American history. She really was left as a revolutionary without a revolution. She was left alone with the myth that everyone had created around her. And I think she didn’t, she wasn’t allowed to move the way many of us have moved. And although she did establish with an alias, Alice Metzinger, a life for herself in Oregon, she owned a restaurant, she had a house, and she has this child and a husband, the Katharine Ann Power, the real person that was underneath came cracking through the alias. And as Katharine Ann Power stands today in prison, she is still wrapped up in the kind of ethos of the Sixties and the Seventies.
HEFFNER: What do you mean by that?
FRANKS: Well, I’ll give you an example. There are new prison regulations in the Massachusetts prisons that allow prisoners to make phone calls only if the number that they call is pre-registered, and they also record all phone calls, and record who the phone calls are made to and what was said. Now, this was a new regulation instituted very recently, six months after Katharine Ann Power began serving her sentence. So she has organized, or she actually is one of the only ones, but I think she has a few other people with her, a protest against this prison regulation by not calling any, by not putting any numbers down save her lawyers number. So she has robbed her and her family of the chance to be in touch. And this is another example of sacrificing her own well-being, her own pleasure, her own whatever, and her family’s for the sake of a principle that may mean nothing. I mean, I would think if I was a Massachusetts prison official I would lust laugh at this, because it’s only hurting the prisoners themselves. And indeed, some people would argue that a prison, particularly in light of things like the World Trade Center bombing, which was planned in prison, that prison officials have a perfect right to record conversations that are made by prisoners on the telephone. Others would argue against that.
HEFFNER: And her comments about this principled action of hers?
FRANKS: She says that she doesn’t want to put anybody that she is friendly with under government scrutiny. And that the people, the women that went to jail for her during the Sixties and Seventies, during the Seventies really, she owes them something back, and she owes them the ability to live free of government scrutiny. Now, this is carrying principle to a very far degree in the sense that we’re not living in a revolutionary time, we’re not living in a time where the FBI is actively, you know, reporting names and taking vengeance the way that they did in the time of Hoover. It’s almost as though she was back in those days.
HEFFNER: What does that tell you about what she did do in those days and her behavior in those days and the behavior of the others with her?
FRANKS: What does that tell me? It tells me that at that particular time, that kind of principle was justified because there were thousands of men dying, Vietnamese and American men, monthly. And perhaps it was worth making that kind of sacrifice back then. But certainly today it’s probably not worth making it.
HEFFNER: Your sympathies for them, then, are still very strong, aren’t they?
FRANKS: “Them” being the protestors and…
HEFFNER: Uh huh.
FRANKS: I believe so. I think we were, I look nostalgically back at our generation when I see the generation of today that doesn’t have a cause to rally around. I mean, we really had purpose and cause, and we had, you know, a new age to build. We came out of, you know, the generation before us was the Silent Generation, and the Fifties, and, you know, the closed society. And we had the opportunity to break free, which the kids of today don’t have.
HEFFNER: Lucinda, do you think that the violence – and just call it the violence,” not talk about a particular act, as in her instance involved the murder of a policeman – do you think the violence was necessary to our progress as a nation, as a people?
FRANKS: Now, that would be a very hard argument to argue for. No, I don’t think so. I certainly don’t think the violence to people. That cop, for the record, was shot by a convict that was part of this group, and Katharine Ann Power was on the fringes of that action. She was in a switch car, she didn’t even drive the switch car, a mile away from the bank. So she and her fellow Brandeis students that were involved in that group did not participate in direct violence against people.
HEFFNER: Now, wait a minute, wait a minute. Under the law…
HEFFNER: …they did.
FRANKS: Yes. Well, under the law, you’re right; they did because they were involved. And that’s why…
HEFFNER: Yes. Your husband is the district attorney of New York County now.
FRANKS: Yes, yes.
HEFFNER: You know perfectly well…
HEFFNER: …that to say, “Well, she was on the fringe,” she was within the law…
FRANKS: She was within that group. On the other hand, the New York DA’s office probably would not have had her serve jail time if it had been in New York, because of the amount of time that had passed, because of the fact that she was not in the bank, that she was not even driving the getaway car. Whereas Boston, where the passions run very high because of the police officer and it’s a smaller, tighter police community, politically, (think they had to send her to jail for a pretty long time for what she had done. So, to get back to your question about, “Is the violence necessary?” that’s a hard argument. If you had taken away the Weather Underground, if you had taken away the Katharine Ann Powers, taken away all the bombings, would the country have been shaken up to the same degree? Would Nixon have ended the war, you know, finally he had to end the war. Would he have ended the war if there hadn’t been the shock value of the leaders of tomorrow, the Phi Beta Kappas and the, you know, the Harvard and Yale and, you know, Ivy Leaguers blowing up buildings? I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t necessary, the loss of life. But whenever you have violence you necessarily have, you know, by accident, loss of life.
HEFFNER: You indicate that she’s the last of the underground people. Is that…
FRANKS: Yes, yes.
HEFFNER: . . .Do I understand that correctly?
FRANKS: Yes. To my knowledge, she is the last.
HEFFNER: And what about the others? Where are they now?
FRANKS: Where are they now? Some are, Susan Sachs, I think is running a religious program in Philadelphia. This was her cohort in the gang. Bernadine Dorn and Bill Ayres, that were Weather Underground, are working as paralegals, or at least Bernadine Dorn is working as a paralegal in Chicago. She went to law school but she wasn’t admitted to the bar because of her past, she’s not allowed to practice law, so her past haunts her. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide. Some people did well. Others, like Bernadine Dorn, who was very, very, very smart, was never able to be a lawyer like she wanted to be. They’re the walking wounded, most of them, I believe.
HEFFNER: Yes, but it’s not unfair of me, I believe, to say being a member of the walking wounded is better than being the policeman who is dead.
FRANKS: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
HEFFNER: So let’s go back to this business about Boston and the peculiarity perhaps of the sentence that she received. When will she be out?
FRANKS: She will be out in a little over, well, come up for parole in about five years.
HEFFNER: So that would be a total of, what, six years?
FRANKS: About five and a third years.
HEFFNER: Right. And you think that perhaps might be characterized as – what should I say – inappropriate? Unfair? What?
FRANKS: The interesting thing about when Katharine Ann Power surrendered, it brought up all the buried strife and all the unsolved, unhealed wounds of Vietnam. So that you walked out of that courtroom and half of the people were saying it was terrible, it was a very harsh sentence after 23 years of an exemplary life, even though it was a life on the run, albeit, you know, because she was 21 and naive and on the fringes of this action in which the police officer was killed, that she should get much less time. Indeed, one of the other gang members that was also on the fringe turned state’s evidence and didn’t serve any jail time at all. So, and there were others in Boston that said she should have gone away for life. Somebody identifying himself as one of the sons of the slain policeman, Walter Schroeder, called a local Corvallis, Oregon newspaper where Katharine had lived, and said that she should have died for it, that she got off much too easy. So there was a lot of rancorous debate.
HEFFNER: Lucinda, do you think there should be a statute of limitations; there should be a point at which you say, “Well, you’ve lived, though as a fugitive, an exemplary life for 20 years and more. Therefore, the full responsibility for the act that you committed should perhaps be waived.’
FRANKS: Well, I think that’s difficult. I think it depends on the circumstance. Certainly if she had been in the bank, no. If she had even driven the getaway car, no. I think where she was in a very tangential role, you know, when she was a junior in college and taken in by these convicts that Brandeis University let on the campus in one of these liberal parole programs to take convicts out of prison and put them in the dorms, you know, mixing with young women and, you know, these convicts just took in these naive girls, I think all of that should be taken into consideration. And that’s not to say that she shouldn’t, you know, do some time, you know, whether its community service or some jail time, and compensation to the family. But she’s not been allowed to do compensation.
HEFFNER: What does that say to our children today, 20, 21, 25, whatever, about responsibility, about taking responsibility for one’s own acts?
FRANKS: Her jail term, you mean?
HEFFNER: Yeah, or your attitude toward the jail term, or the attitude of the many people who felt it was too severe a punishment?
FRANKS: Well, I think, you know, that one of the problems with criminal justice is it seems to be so not-evenhanded. One of the gang members got off with nothing, and Katharine Power goes to jail after 23 years, voluntarily surrendering herself, by the way, she would never have been caught, and goes to jail for five and a third years. I think that there are different ways that you can exact punishment. And the severity of the crime should, you know, be appropriately dealt with.
HEFFNER: Lucinda, we have half a minute or so left. Do you think we’ll see the likes of those activities from the late Sixties and the Seventies again?
FRANKS: Not unless Clinton decides to march into Mexico and (laughter) you know, start a war. I think.
HEFFNER: Or Haiti?
FRANKS: Or Haiti. But, you know, we have learned a lot of lessons from Vietnam. A lot of the protests have not, you know, have not been in vain. We have not had another Vietnam, and it’s been quite awhile. And I can’t see any president, even with Bosnia and Serbia, we have not sent troops, and I don’t think we’ll commit another mistake like Vietnam.
HEFFNER: I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Lucinda Franks, thank you so much for joining me today on The Open Mind.
FRANKS: Thank you, Dick.
HEFFNER: And thanks too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you’d like to share your thoughts about our program today, please write: The Open Mind, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts, send $2 in check or money order.
Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck.”